Dmitri Baltermants

Photographs of Soviet photographer Dmitri Baltermants (1912 – 1990) are represented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), MoMA (New York), Getty Museum, Multimedia Art Museum (Moscow), Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), Cleveland Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts (Houston) and many other museums, galleries and private collections all over the world. 

Dmitri Baltermants created unexpected beauty out the conflict, destruction, grief, and loss experienced in World War II. Born in Warsaw, Poland, Baltermants’s family moved to Russia in 1915, where his father served as an officer in the Russian tsar’s army and was killed in World War I. Growing up during the Russian Revolution in a military family meant that Baltermants was unfortunately accustomed to living amongst turmoil and conflict, and perhaps this created a predisposed ability to confront the most intense moments in war. Although he intended to teach math in a military academy, Baltermants instead found a passion in photography. He began his career as a photojournalist in 1939, the year World War II began in Western Europe. 

From 1941 until Allied victory in 1945, Baltermants, like many of his contemporary Soviet war photojournalists, “fought armed only with [a] camera.” He was wounded twice and was lucky to escape with his life. Baltermants travelled in the Red Army, fearlessly photographing battles throughout the Soviet Union and the Ukraine, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the 1944 invasion of Berlin. He captured the Soviets’ riveting and proud moments in battle, quiet moments in the downtime between the fighting, as well as devastation of military and civilian deaths. During and after the war, many of these photographs were censored by Soviet propaganda officials, unable to be shown until the Khrushchev period of the 1960s. It was not until almost 20 years later that Baltermants publicly presented such images as a dead soldier left on a muddy road outside of Smolensk, where the Soviets lost their first major battle on the Eastern Front, or women pushing a cart of their dead husbands who were victims of a 1942 Nazi massacre of Jews in Kerch, Crimea. 

The same year the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the Cold War, and a year before his death in 1990, Baltermants wrote in an interview for Aperture magazine: “We photographers make magnificent shots of wars, fires, earthquakes, and murder: the grief of humanity. We would like to see photographs about joy, happiness and love, but on the same level. I realize, though, that this is difficult.” 

 

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